Wednesday, December 12, 2007

The Older Man

If you’re like me, you have read a ton of books with the vivacious virginal heroine and the world-weary rake. I’m very pleased to see a trend of aging that vivacious virginal heroine from seventeen to mid-twenties now, but the world-weary rake is usually still in his thirties. I figure he’s had close to two decades to get into mischief and debauchery. Instead of finding innocence boring beyond belief, he’s going to be swept away by a clueless dewy-eyed ingénue before The End. Yeah, right. I cannot forget Charles and Diana, separated by a dozen years and the Relentless Rottweiler, and we all know how that turned out.

In Third-Rate Romance, I have my three metafictional heroes discussing their sexual experience as they drink themselves silly in a New Orleans bar. One of them, Lincoln, the sheriff in the Historical-Western-Inspirational, confesses to Liam and Lionel that until his marriage, he was a virgin too.

Lionel had never been so shocked in his life. He was fairly sure he’d lost his innocence with a tavern girl much like the barmaid here, barring all the body adornment, when he was a mere stripling, and a jolly time he’d had of it too once he deloused. “Good Lord, man! How old are you?

“Same as you. Thirty’s the age, ain’t it? We’re all thirty, every one of us heroes. It must be the law or somethin’.”

I read somewhere that the average age for a woman to marry today is 25; for a man, it’s 26. In romance novels, I believe most of us would find 26 to be a bit young for the hero. I mean, Justin Timberlake is 26. Who wants to marry him? (Besides a zillion young girls.) Other than being a sexy singer with a d*ck in a box, how is our fictional billionaire-CEO-Duke going to make all the money necessary to ensure the heroine fulfills our Cinderella fantasy? Maturity means success, or at least coming into your inheritance.

My husband could be my older brother. He was born in January, I in October of the same year. Technically he’s the older man, but we don’t have that Romanceland Age Range. We have a common history, though, and get each other’s cultural references. If I had married a much older man, I’d probably be rinsing his teeth off and counting the days until I planted him.

When does the age gap get icky for you? I loved Heyer’s These Old Shades, but Avon is way older that Leonie. I wrote a historical novella where the heroine is eighteen and the hero thirty-eight, and I suspect I’ve gone into icky territory. How much older is too much older? How old are your favorite fictional couples? What are the ages of your own protagonists? TRR’s writer-heroine is in her late forties, her guy in his fifties. They do say to write what you know, and I can still remember my forties. *g* Have you read any older woman/younger man stuff, and does that work for you? I smiled through Crusie’s Anyone But You.

The painting above is Edmund Blair Leighton’s Till Death Us Do Part. Originally titled L.S.D., a British abbreviation for money and not drugs, it depicts an unhappy young bride on the arm of her elderly, presumably rich groom exiting the church.

Lindsey! You’ve won the copy of Forbidden Shores. E-me at with your snailmail address.


BernardL said...

"If I had married a much older man, I’d probably be rinsing his teeth off and counting the days until I planted him."


Terri Osburn said...

I think we've been de-sensitized to the ick factor. In historicals anyway. I'd never believe more than 15 years difference in a contemporary.

In my main WIP the hero is 30 and the heroine 28. In my erotic romance short story I went for the older woman younger man with the heroine being 35 and the hero 24. But for the other two in development it's the norm for me of hero a couple years older than the heroine and both somewhere around 30.

I realized that I expect heroes in historicals to be in their 30s when finding out the hero of Untouched is only 25. And the herione is *gasp* the same age. That just seemed odd to me. I know it's not, but that was my first reaction.

Congrats, Lindsey.

irisheyes said...

I'm not as wigged out by the age difference that so many readers seem to be. Maybe it's because I know of several RL couples where the man is 10-15 years older than the woman and their relationships are awesome.

I also always keep in mind that society and what was the norm was so much different back in the Regency period. But even so, I don't mind contemporaries where there is a huge age difference either.

I think as with everything else it depends on the characters. Are they mature and ready to be in a committed relationship? I've known a lot of very mature 18 year old women/men who knew their own mind and an older man/woman was a great match for them. I've also known 50 year old women/men who really needed to grow up!

That being said, the older I get the more I realize just how much I didn't know when I was 18 (through 40! LOL), and how disastrous my relationship would have been if I married at that point in my life.

irisheyes said...

Congrats, Lindsey!

Sara Lindsey said...

I get annoyed by older heroines in historical romances if they've got connections or are well-dowered. I just don't believe they'd go that long without marrying.

In contemporaries, I'm not personally into heroines who are 40+, mainly because that's only a decade away from my parents... ick! Susan Elizabeth Phillips has lots of secondary romances among older couples... that's usually a little weird too, though, because do you really want to read about the hero/heroine's parents having sex?

Ladytink_534 said...

I'm with bernardl. I somehow got Mt. Dew up my nose when I read that!

Janga said...

When I read books with lovers under 40 having sizzling sex, I don't think about the characters in terms of my nephews and nieces or my students. Why do younger readers think about older lovers in terms of their parents?

In romance, age bothers me only if the relationship seems implausible for the particular characters. It is hard to imagine than anyone other than Leonie, that part-gamine, part-old-soul character, could ever have won Avon's heart, Maggie. I recently read Jill Barnett's Christmas story "Boxing Day," and I loved the older woman-younger man pairing. The H/H pairings in my stories are all couples who are near in age, with the hero 2-4 years older. I don't remember consciously think about it; it just seemed natural, probably because it is close to my experience.

In RL, my mother was a very few years older than my dad, and two of my aunts married younger men. In one case, the husband is ten years younger, but they have been married forty-two years and seem very happy together. One of my closest friends is 12 years younger than her husband, and they too have been married for several happy decades. Again, I think it depends on the individuals involved. I also think the distance between 18 and 28 is greater than the distance between 28 and 38.

Terri Osburn said...

Janga makes an excellent point. I could see dating a guy maybe 5 years younger but that's more plausible the older I get which in turn means the older that would make the man.

Sara - you are too funny. Even 20somethings can be parents. And I doubt you have trouble reading those scenes. It's totally natural and even your grandparents did it. Maybe still do! LOL!

Maggie Robinson/Margaret Rowe said...

Glad to see this lively discussion! One of my daughters is married to a guy 11 years older than she is. They seem to have the differences all worked out. My father was 9 years older than my mother, too.

Sara, I think it's always uncomfortable thinking of our relatives in the throes of hot monkey love. I know I don't want to picture my married kids. But let's hope that everybody's parents enjoy the warmth and strength of a sexual bond right to the grave. Nothing will keep them younger longer.

I think the publishing industry is waking up to the fact that older women want to read about someone other than a perfect teen Barbie doll. Older writers have gotten tired of writing about that 17 year old virgin. Lines like NEXT and "women's fiction" feature heroines who have lived a bit. It's great that there's something for everybody.

I think as Terrio and Irish pointed out, we tend to accept the big age gap in historicals. I'd kind of wonder why the contemporary40 year old guy was interested in the 20 year old (besides the obvious reasons). Speaking as a mature woman, I am far more fascinating now than I was then, LOL! Although gravity is definitely taking a toll.

Bernard and Ladytink, glad I could make you grin.

Janga, I so agree that Leonie is perfect for Avon. That's one of my favorite Heyers...and of course I love them again in Devil's Cub.

Keira Soleore said...

If I had married a much older man, I’d probably be rinsing his teeth off and counting the days until I planted him.

I bet your husband's glad to be "of an age" with you. :)

Twenty years is awfully hard to bridge no matter how old they get: 38 and 58 is just as bad as 18 and 38. For some reason, it works in historicals for me; the older in time period the story is, the wider the allowable age gap. The reason is because a 26-year-old man in the 1600s was MUCH older in mental age than today's 26-year-old.

Keira Soleore said...

In conjunction with what Janga said, as I've grown older, I've become more and more comfortable with the thought of my parents having sex. Clearly, I wasn't found under a cabbage leaf.

Maggie Robinson/Margaret Rowe said...

Keira, you make an excellent point about maturity through the ages. Girls could be married off at 12 in medieval times. How old was Lydia in P & P? 15 or 16? Nowadays we have to make the heroine at least 18 so we feel she's "legal" and the romance plot isn't some form of child abuse or manipulation. At 18 many girls had been married several years and had several children (and I'm not talking about Loretta Lynn).

Hellie Sinclair said...

In historicals, I don't mind the older factor quite so much. Conditioning as Terri said. I don't believe it quite so much in contemporaries...mainly because I do spend much of my time scoffing at Michael Douglass and Catherine Zeta-Jones AND Donald Trump and whatever fetus he's currently married to. Both those men ick me out.

However in Sense & Sensibility, I absolutely LOVED Colonel Branden. Granted, it was probably because it was Alan Rickman--and I'd date him in a heartbeat--but I'm guessing it's not up to me to like or dislike older men and younger women. Obviously there are women who do prefer older men--go for it. Whatever.

I, myself, probably would at least sleep with Justin Timberlake. *LOL* Or at least Orlie, who's in the same decade. I find myself liking the younger crowd the older I get. (Whereas when I was 18, I thought all those rakish 30 year olds were oh so sexy. I just have to say: I was an idiot.) Being men, regardless of age, act about 17--you might as well get the newer model and train him to pick up his old socks than pick an old one who doesn't care if everything is left out everywhere. Plus young ones "recover" quicker...and that has its uses for a single girl in her 30s.

You know how "cougar" in the word for an older woman who chases young, impressionable men? Yes, men have a word too--you know, the guy who is 45 if he's a day, in college bars, trying to pick up 18-year-old college sorority recruits?--MANTHERS. Those men are called Manthers. There's your word of the day. Use it well.

Terri Osburn said...

Manthers?! I'd never heard of that. Then I'd never heard of Cougar until earlier this year when someone had to explain it to me.

Hey, JT has rythme. Can you imagine? As long as he doesn't do that Michael Jackson high pitched voice thing...

I think you have to take "old man butt" into account. Do you really want to be cuddling up to his saggy 70-year old a$$ when you're 45? I'd think not.

Maggie Robinson/Margaret Rowe said...

Hellion, you are a never-ending source of information. Never heard of manther but I like it. And Terrio, now I want to wash out my brain. What gets me is when a guy marries someone younger than his children. Somehow, that's really ick-worthy.

Hellie Sinclair said...

I don't know. Marrying a girl in your daughter's graduating class is pretty icky too. *LOL* Even if she's "older" by a whopping 6 months. Imagine calling her "mom".

Terri Osburn said...

My ex-sister-in-law is 30 and her husband is 51. His daughter is 31 and when they married about four years ago, SIL became an instant grandmother at 26.

Now, the other ex-sister-in-law married that sister's husband's son so her sister is now her mother-in-law and I have no idea if her kids will call her aunt or grandma.

I know I had a point here but I've just confused myself. Oh yeah, 21 years difference and being younger than your step-daughter is just wrong. LOL!

Maggie Robinson/Margaret Rowe said...

Terrio, this sounds like you have the makings of a TV show---Big Love, only Bigger. Too funny!

Anonymous said...

Well when I was 18 yrs old I met a man who was 32 yrs old...Nobody excepted our relationship and there were many obstacles for us to over come. But sure enough I fell in love with this man. Now I am turning 30 and he is 44. We are happily married and living out our dreams together as planned. My point is it depends on the each individuals character, I was a very mature 18 yr old and I stood strong with my beilefs, and it took a grown adult man to understand where I was coming from.I could never pictured myself with a man my age simply because there's too much immaturity. So its not about being grossed out or anything, its just about being compatible and what truly makes you happy. Age really isn't nothing but a number!